Trend Reversal: Americans Flee Big Cities for Small-Town Life in Record Numbers

Frustrated by Coronavirus restrictions and frightened by the violence popping up in US cities, many people are abandoning the cities they love for lives they hope are simpler and safer. Near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains sits Orange, Virginia with a population of about four thousand.

It's a place where a little girl can talk to her pet tortoise in the sunshine or play on a tree swing with her baby brother. "We don't have any intentions of going back," said Marc Nielsen.

This is a far cry from the life the Nielsen family loved – but suddenly feared – 75 miles away in Washington, DC. "It was terrifying. There were riots going into DC into Arlington and riots happening in Manassas. We were sandwiched right in between," said Vanessa Nielsen.

The word that a controversial curriculum was coming to their public school this fall was the last straw. A month ago, Marc and Vanessa closed the door on DC for good. "My wife and I have conservative values and we value faith in our home," said Marc.

The Nielsens have joined what's seen as a growing urban exodus. After years of migration into US cities, some experts believe the trend is reversing itself. Riots, a pandemic, and the cost of living are all contributing to the flight to the suburbs.

The numbers suggest New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were among those seeing population decline even before the pandemic hit. Some analysts warn taxes will spike even more in urban areas to compensate for the loss of businesses. Open Table predicts 25 percent of restaurants could go under because of the pandemic.

According to Pew Research, one in five people nationwide has relocated in recent months, or know someone who has moved. One main reason: many people are now able to work from home for the first time.

The phone calls keep coming into Abbie Platt's Northern Virginia Real Estate office.

"They'll tell me right out of the gate, 'I am working remotely, there is nothing keeping me in the area.' They may not have ever considered leaving proximity to an office, where now they will go 30, 40, 50 miles out," said Abbie Platt of Pearson Smith Realty.

"Those areas are where the modern gold rush is on. Bidding battles, low inventory. Home prices and interest rates are low. The question on my mind is how long these impacts will be?" said Mark Hamrick of

As more people seek a better quality of life elsewhere, experts say those left behind may end up living in a city they may no longer recognize. As big-city mayors and leaders across the country sound the alarm, the future of life in our densest cities is unclear.

But the Nielsens see the ability to roll up their sleeves and spread their wings as the new paradise. "There's a lot of access to good things in the city, but everything I need is out there and I just feel more relaxed out there," said Marc.

It's too early to know how many people will trade city life for small-town America. But analysts do believe it could be years before we know the full impact on both urban areas and the smaller communities so many are now calling home.

© Author: Tara Mergener